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Here Comes Treble: Spectacular

...In our orchestra, where many members are of an age when several pairs of spectacles are required, it has become habit for my oboe-playing colleague and me to remind each other to ‘change glasses’ at the beginning and end of rehearsals. Driving home at night with music-reading specs would be a danger to ourselves and others on the road....

Isabel Bradley, a most insightful writer and musician, gets in a tizzy and a tangle over spectacles.

To read more of Isabel's delicious columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/here_comes_treble/

Jenny, the afternoon presenter on our local talk-radio station, said, “I need to put on my sunglasses to read this item…”

I could imagine every listener saying, “Er – pardon?”

Jenny explained: “I left my everyday spectacles at home. I have my sunglasses which I use for driving, they have the same prescription lenses. Without prescription lenses, I can’t read anything… but the sunglasses are so dark inside, they’re going to be on and off all afternoon!”

Many people, in this time of excellent eye-care, have similar problems caused by owning more than one pair of spectacles. Jenny’s quandary in the studio reminded me of a trip to England which Leon and I made a few years ago. I had, at that time, a pair of spectacles for reading, computer-work and music-reading, and a second pair of prescription sunglasses for use when driving. I wore both of these spectacles on chains. Until the day we arrived in England, I had never needed both pairs simultaneously. On this beautiful English day, however, the sun shone brightly as we got into the hire car. Leon was to drive, I was appointed navigator. Imagine the confused tangle of chains around my neck, when I discovered that I needed to read the map with my reading glasses and, in the next instant, check road signs and names with the distance ones. More by good luck than accurate navigation, we arrived safely at our destination; though by the time Leon switched off the car’s engine, both of us were suffering from nerves and mild irritation with each other. Since then, I’ve driven in foreign countries, and Leon has navigated. But that, of course, is another story.

To return to our speculations on spectacles, I now have a much more complicated set. One has vary-focal lenses which are photo-sensitive, darkening when exposed to direct sun-light. When wearing these, I can read everything from maps to books to the instruments on the car’s dashboard and road-signs. Unfortunately, inside the car they don’t darken, so I have a pair of clip-on sunglasses for use when driving. My second pair, I use when working at the computer. Reading music, however, requires a specific distance and wide-angle focussing, so I own a third pair for this purpose. Having so many pairs of spectacles can cause confusion. The number of times I’ve walked out of the office wearing my computer-specs dangling on their chain around my neck are numerous. Thankfully, I’ve only once arrived on stage at a performance with the wrong spectacles, they made the music go fuzzy at the edges so I had to continuously move my head from side to side.

In our orchestra, where many members are of an age when several pairs of spectacles are required, it has become habit for my oboe-playing colleague and me to remind each other to ‘change glasses’ at the beginning and end of rehearsals. Driving home at night with music-reading specs would be a danger to ourselves and others on the road.

As my uncle grew older, he was reluctant to spend money on upgrading his spectacles. Towards the end of his life, he would hold a book almost at his nose, his spectacles tipped to one side to catch the best angle for his good eye, and with a magnifying glass to aid the spectacles.

My daughter often wears contact lenses. Recently, when riding her mountain bike off-road, she discovered that wearing her ordinary spectacles when cycling wasn’t ideal, as they steamed up from perspiration, and didn’t cut the glare. She tried wearing her contact lenses, but found the dust made this option unbearably painful. When she spent a fortune on a pair of sport sunglasses to wear over her contacts, the problem was finally solved.

One lovely friend, out of vanity and to everyone’s amusement, insisted on removing her spectacles and hiding them behind her back every time a camera was produced. Another friend also felt she looked better without her glasses, and left them at home when she attended our murder mystery evening. She couldn’t read the script or follow the story line, throwing all the other participants into rather hilarious confusion.

Spectacles are a vital part of life for many people. Without my specs, I… er… speculate that I would be a lost soul, merely existing without the ability to write, read or play music.

A few hundred years ago, people would have given up reading, and certainly wouldn’t be writing, when their close vision became blurred. A very dear old friend of mine, with whom I corresponded for many years, went almost completely blind during her nineties. I received a heartbreaking letter of several pages from her, most of which was written with a pen in which the ink had run out.

Spectacles, and the very idea of them, are symbolic of sight and quite a bit more. One of my flute teachers used to draw spectacles above the notes of passages that needed extra concentration and I’ve continued to mark my music in this way.

The first records of corrective lenses are found in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in the Eighth Century BC. However, though Emperor Nero of Rome was said to have used an emerald as a corrective lens, there is no real record of actual eyeglasses being used until around the Eleventh Century AD. From the mid-seventeen-hundreds, the technology for creating lenses for correction of myopia improved slowly. Bifocals were invented as early as 1784, supposedly preventing the type of confusion caused by having to switch between two different pairs of spectacles. If only I had known…

I imagine with admiration, prolific composers such as Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, working into the night by candle light, using at best, primitive lenses.

The ready availability of spectacles has enhanced the quality of life for many people who may otherwise be confined to a life of boredom and fuzziness. Thank goodness for the ever-improving technology that allows people like me to speculate on the entire matter of spectacles!

Until next time, ‘here comes Treble!’

By Isabel Bradley © Copyright Reserved


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